While traveling up and down North America as a 16-year-old on the pro circuit, I managed to win a $10,000 tournament in El Paso, Texas. I was unseeded during my unexpected run and escaped near losses in the first round and semifinals; the title helped push my ranking up into the low 500s. On the way to the airport in a hideous PT Cruiser rental, my mom said to me, “This can’t be the peak. You have to keep going for more.”

In the year following that little breakthrough, I was defending almost nothing besides the El Paso title. The pressure of backing it up settled on my teenage shoulders—I lost six matches in a row. The sixth in Mexico came against my best friend, Irina Falconi, and marked the one-year anniversary of my mini miracle. With my precious ranking accelerating backwards, I ended the year almost 200 spots lower than I began.

The dreaded sophomore slump can strike players at any ranking in any sport. No one is immune, from aspiring pros to established stars. For those of you blissfully unaware, the term describes the many setbacks and hardships commonly experienced after a strong first year. It can hamper students, when effort and grades slip after a stellar start, or musicians when a second album doesn’t live up to the first (which almost always happens). There’s no getting around it: After a year of relative bliss, “What’s next?” looms on the horizon, and there’s no choice but to warily edge closer and hope to escape sophomore year unscathed.

Right now, the player most familiar with this term is Eugenie Bouchard. She had a magical year in 2014, reaching two Grand Slam semifinals and a Wimbledon final while rising to No. 5 in the rankings (after starting the season outside of the Top 30). At just 21 years old, she became the highest-ranked Canadian female of all time. The stars were aligning perfectly for Bouchard as she marched happily through draws that seemed to part before her feet.

Bouchard's inevitable sophomore slump—and the inevitable overreaction

Bouchard's inevitable sophomore slump—and the inevitable overreaction


Predictably, the hype surrounding Bouchard exploded. Contracts, magazine covers (including TENNIS Magazine), interviews and groupies—both the Genie Army and social media followers—emerged. Marriage proposals and stuffed animals were tossed towards her in equal measures. But as the pixie dust settled and 2014 came to a close, cracks in the young phenom’s fairytale façade began to show. In October at the WTA Finals, she barely won more than two games per set in three quick losses. Perhaps most telling, she didn’t seem enjoy playing at all.

This year, after a solid run to the Australian Open quarterfinals, Bouchard has gone 2-6, losing her opening-round match at three events and twice falling to players outside the Top 100. She was upset in both of her singles matches in a Fed Cup tie against Romania—not to mention her self-imposed handshake-gate. As the legend of the sophomore slump reads, a drop this year was expected as the cold walls of the real world heartlessly close in.

But there’s no reason Bouchard can’t shake off this nightmare stretch with a little more resolve and patience. The same could also be said of her critics, who have been as quick to jump down her throat as the groupies were to jump on the bandwagon. Let’s not forget that Bouchard has proven capable of going deep at Grand Slams more than once—fluke runs they were not—and is still holding on to a No. 6 ranking.

While I didn’t emerge unscathed from my sophomore slump, I did keep playing on the pro circuit before going to compete for UCLA. It all worked out eventually, though maybe not in the way I had dreamed it would have. For a player of Bouchard’s caliber, things look dire right now, but this slump could serve as a humbling lesson and push her to improve. That, hopefully, may be what’s next.